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Make sense of SAN management software

To help you select the right software to manage your SAN, Rick Cook lists important questions you need to ask to help make the best purchase.

Problem: Selecting the right software to manage your SAN takes some study and careful evaluation of your needs. How should you go about that?

Here's how to start thinking about selecting the right software for your company: More and more, SAN management software is converging on a common set of features. However products differ widely in how well they actually support the different functions. Some emphasize reporting and monitoring tools to keep track of the SAN's performance and use. Others offer wide-ranging automation to handle everything from provisioning to capacity allocation. Some products support a relatively limited number of vendors. Others seem to be out to support every switch and HBA in existence.

What all this translates into is more work for storage administrators to get the product that fits their environment. The good news is that things are getting better. SAN management software at the beginning of 2004 is generally a lot more flexible and able to handle heterogeneous SANs than it was, say in the middle of 2002.

  • The first question is "can this product support our present and planned environment?"
    This can be a little tricky since software vendors naturally want to claim they can support everything. Some of the big players make a significant attempt, but the fact is you're probably going to be limited in your selection of software by what products will effectively support your choices of operating system and hardware. Also, don't forget to look at how closely SAN management can be integrated with other management products your enterprise uses.

  • The next question is "what is really important in our enterprise?"
    Here you need to examine the various features and decide which ones are most important to you. Then examine the products and decide which ones are strongest at the things you really need done.

    In a rapidly evolving organization, the ability to re-partition storage or reconfigure the SAN to support the changes in the enterprise is an important consideration. In a more stable environment, monitoring tools and alerting features may be more important. If you need high reliability, you need a product that easily supports multiple paths through the fabric and aids failover.

    Incidentally, don't underestimate the importance of the user interface. An interface that provides you with a clear, logical, view of your SAN and that makes jobs like provisioning and partition management easy isn't just a luxury. Instead it will pay off in reduced administration time.

    For more information:

    Tip: Simplifying the storage management process

    Tip: SMI-S: What's in it for storage managers?

    Tip: SAN Management: A growing concern amid storage consolidation

    About the author: Rick Cook has been writing about mass storage since the days when the term meant an 80K floppy disk. The computers he learned on used ferrite cores and magnetic drums. For the last twenty years he has been a freelance writer specializing in storage and other computer issues.

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